Transcript of Get Ready Report podcast, episode 45: Get Smart About Antibiotics Week

In this episode of APHA’s Get Ready Report, we speak with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Associate Director for Healthcare-Associated Infection Prevention Programs Arjun Srinivasan, MD, about how Americans can help fight against antibiotic resistance — and prevent it from creating health emergencies.

Good afternoon, Dr. Srinivasan. My first question for you: What kind of emergencies can antibiotic resistance cause and how is this affecting us as a society?

You know, I think that’s an important point that you’re raising in terms of raising awareness about the issues with respect to emergency preparedness and emergencies with antibiotic resistance. Infections by their nature are almost always urgent and many are emergent. Infections are one of those things that can make people very, very sick and even kill people very quickly. So when we have an infection there is an urgent need to treat someone appropriately. When that requires an antibiotic, we need to know that the antibiotic is effective.

The problem with antibiotic resistance is that it takes away the drugs we could normally come to to treat infections. So, when you’re talking about someone who’s very ill, like has a really life-threatening infection like sepsis, for example, if we can’t get them on the right antibiotic quickly, we are less likely to be able to let them survive that infection. So, if we are encountering situations like we are in many hospitals where there’s a lot of drug resistance and we don’t know which antibiotic to reach for first, then that really exacerbates an emergency situation.

It makes it that much harder for our emergency providers in hospitals and outpatient settings to be able to treat those emergencies most effectively.

Absolutely, and that’s why Get Smart About Antibiotics Week is so important. And it starts today and runs from Nov. 16-22. How can being smart about antibiotics keep Americans prepared for emergencies?

We know that there’s a lot that we can do to help reduce the risks of antibiotic resistance and reduce the spread of these infections. We think it’s an important part of our ability to respond to emergency infections when they happen. We have a couple of big approaches that we advocate for at CDC. One of the biggest is improving the way we use antibiotics. We know that overusing contributes to the problem of antibiotic resistance and the better job we can do using antibiotics properly the better we’ll do in controlling the issue. I think it’s important to emphasize that it’s not the only thing we need to do but it’s certainly a very important thing we need to do.

Other commonsense steps we know are very effective at reducing exposure to unnecessary antibiotics and helping us fight resistance are simple and straightforward things like cleaning your hands properly like cleaning your hands properly: either using soap with water or alcohol-based hand rub, getting appropriate vaccines, especially your flu shots. And with these things do is they reduce your chance of getting ill and we know if you don’t get ill you’re less likely to wind up in a doctor’s office or an emergency department where you might get an antibiotic prescription that you may not need.

That’s interesting that you touch on hand-washing in its role in preventing infections from spreading. APHA and our Get Ready campaign has created fact sheets on hand-washing and also vaccines to fight back against antibiotic resistance and other emergencies. My final question is: What are you at CDC doing to celebrate and commemorate Get Smart About Antibiotics Week?

What we’re really trying to do is raise awareness of the problem. A lot of our efforts this week are focusing on educating people who may not be familiar with this topic or, more importantly, making people who might be familiar with resistance knowledgeable about the things they can do to help us combat this problem and improve antibiotic use. A lot of what we’re doing now is in collaboration with a lot of different partners.

It’s been an especially exciting year for our efforts to work on improving antibiotic use. We’ve seen a very large number of partner organizations that have really joined CDC’s voice in calling for improvements but even more important than joining our voice, they’re pointing to specific things that can be done. We’re talking about partners both in the health care sector — large health care organizations or large insurance companies — but also a number of different large companies. Wal-Mart, for example, has some public service announcements that they’ll be running this week that will help patients, and those of us who will be patients someday, to learn how to talk better with our doctors about the need antibiotics and to understand when we do and don’t need antibiotics. So I think there have been a lot of folks who have stepped forward.

The White House hosted a forum for people who are interested, organizations that are interested, in trying to improve antibiotic use last June. And there were over 100 organizations who came to this meeting at the White House, to listen and to also commit to things that they could do to improve antibiotic use.

Thank you so much, Dr. Srinivasan. It was a pleasure having you. Good luck for the rest of Get Smart About Antibiotics Week.s

Thank you, Daniel.

Posted Nov. 18, 2015. Listen to this podcast on our main podcast page.